Another challenge for planning and organizing intergroup programs is helping participants understand what to expect and priming them for engaging other people in this context.  Project participants stressed the importance of setting the tone early, making expectations clear, and, depending on the structure of the effort, securing a commitment up front.

Before approaching participants regarding these expectations, they must first be articulated by the organizers in light of the local circumstance, time constraints, and other factors.  Steven Pitts, Labor Policy Specialist at the UC Berkeley Labor Center, emphasized the need for this groundwork by organizers:

Start where people are.  Don’t talk at people.  Recognize that you’re not going to move major mountains in a 3-4-5 hour workshop.  Set goals that you can meet.  Be clear on what’s doable given time and audience.  Make clear your objectives.

The possibility of participant attrition over the course of multi-session initiatives exists, and some organizers address this challenge very early in the process in an effort to minimize the likelihood of this occurrence.  Aside from stressing how relationship building is an ongoing process that requires sustained attendance and effort, some initiatives ask participants to sign contracts.  Carmen Morgan, Program Director of Leadership Development in Interethnic Relations (LDIR), discussed LDIR’s approach:

We set the tone early on.  We meet with each potential participant one-on-one, discuss the time commitment, and expose them to an interactive activities trial.  Potential participants have to sign a 13 point participant contract.  We lay out the expectations early.  Participants realize that they’ve ‘got to fully show up’ here.  People tell us afterwards that this was key in them making the commitment to participate.

Along the same lines, Causa Justa :: Just Cause’s Universidad Assata asks participants to attend at least 8 of 10 meetings, and offers different events to qualify as “make ups” for sessions.   The program also built a structure in which a point person could help those who missed a session catch up on the material.

Finally, in multi-session initiatives, some organizers found that dividing the sessions into a series of stages helped to provide a structure that gave participants “landmarks” in terms of the expectations throughout the process.  To illustrate, the first session or two may be devoted to participants getting to know each other and doing identity work, subsequent sessions may explore groups’ histories, next sessions may examine the role of race, power, and other factors in historical and current circumstances, and final sessions may look forward toward the prospect of joint work or alliance building around key issues or concerns.